Monday, December 30, 2013

Poker Day 417: Super-Sloppy Double Dare

Maybe it was the result of our weekend tournament win online.  Maybe it was because we had an unusual Monday off from work.  Maybe it was because our final table record in Kansas for 2013 stood at exactly 50 percent, and we wanted to settle the year as a winner or loser.

Whatever the reason, "something" told us to head for River City Poker Room for midday poker today.  They have cash-prize tournaments seven days a week (except for New Year's Day, when they'll be closed).  So we offered $20, had a seat -- and found plenty of "regulars" to beat at our full table.

BLINDS: 200/400

IN THE POCKET: A-Q of diamonds

Pre-flop raises are happening often at this table, so it's been difficult to limp in.  But after some early erosion, we won the last pot with A-9 when we bet 1,000 on a flop with an Ace.  So we start this hand with 18,300 chips (out of a starting 21,000).  These good starting cards allow us to sneakily limp in again -- but this time, no one raises.  About half the table is in action.

ON THE FLOP: Qc-6c-2c

We have top pair and top kicker, but a potential problem.  What can we do about all those clubs?  We're in early betting position, so we try to throw a block by betting 1,000.  A couple of players fold -- but a man across the table calls.


Uh-oh.  A fourth club is the last thing we want to see.  Now we have to check -- and our opponent seizes on that by betting 2,200.  We ponder this a moment, conclude he's making a "go away" bet and somewhat reluctantly call.


Now there's a straight threat in addition to the flush draw.  We check again, but our opponent refuses to slow down.  He bets 6,000.  After a moment of meditation.... well, OK, we felt stunned and may have been sulking.... we presume the worst and fold.

Our opponent never shows his cards, so he may have been testing our will with nothing.  But any club had us beat -- and on reflection, we should have bailed out at the turn.  Why spend 2,200 to see a river, when there's no chance to beat the hand you fear your opponent has?

On the other hand we thought our opponent might think we were serious -- checking the river, then proving he only had a low pair.  But alas, we thought wrong.

We did the same thing a few hands later, when we were dealt J-J.  A man to our left raised from 1,000 to 3,500 pre-flop, and we called it.  When three mid-range cards (7-6-6, we think) came on the flop, we went all-in for 9,000.  But the raiser called -- then showed A-A.  An Ace on the turn settled the issue, and we wound up crashing out early: 19th place our of 20 players.

MINISTRY MOMENT: Maybe the "something" which led us to the table was the short chat we had with the first eliminated player, who had sat directly to our left.  We showed him a salt packet we used for a pocket protector, and said, "Jesus wants us to be the salt of the earth" (Matthew 5:13).

The man said nothing in response to that.  But salt can be useful in all sorts of things -- at least for awhile:
Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?  It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; it is thrown out.  He who has ears to hear, let him hear. - Luke 14:34

We've heard some preachers say old tired salt was used in constructing Roman roads.  We couldn't find any online sources to verify that -- so let's take "the Word" at His word here.

If you're a believer in Jesus, how "salty" are you these days?  To borrow a few first-century uses we found in a study Bible, are you adding a nice flavor to an otherwise bland and boring world?  Are you helping to preserve lives, by bringing the things of God before others?  And are you "killing weeds" by challenging ideas and actions which harm people?

Keep looking for ways to share some salt -- before God decides it's time to cast you aside.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 145 final tables in 417 games (34.8%) - 24 cashes.

We close 2013 with a losing record in Kansas, but not by much: 7 final tables in 15 games, with three cash wins (and it could have been four, but the one Sunday we played in an WPT Amateur tournament had no payouts at all). Overall: 15 final tables in 41 games with four cash wins -- a healthy 36.6%.

NATIONAL LEAGUE OF POKER TOTAL: Full tournaments - 284 point wins in 1,421 games (20.0%), 93 final tables, 10 wins, 13 cashes.  No-River Hold 'em - 37 point wins in 127 games (29.1%), 30 final tables, 3 wins, 4 cashes.

We end 2013 by making the points in our last 6 out of 7 No-River games!

POKER STARS.NET TOTAL: Pretend cash games - $86,131, up $1,631 since we moved to Kansas in April.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Flopping to Victory

We're currently able to play in online poker tournaments one or two times each week.  And Saturday night it paid off -- as we won a National League of Poker "No-River Hold 'em" tournament for the second time this year!

The tournament had 165 players, and we were "low man on the pole" with 23 players left.  But then big cards came several times, and we roared to the top in the middle of the final table.

 The win came in a surprising way -- as we were dealt three suited cards for the 11th time in the night.  They failed to convert to a flush nine previous times (we folded one hand which ended early).  But here diamonds turned into a flush on the flop -- and our opponents went all-in with a mere pair of 10's.

Notice who our final opponent was -- someone named "ontheflop64."  We joked in a comment that he might have stolen our blog name.  But he assured us: "I do not steal."

If that's true, good for him.  We're not supposed to do that at any time....
You shall not steal. - Exodus 20:15
Some people (even some Christians) argue that commandment of God and the rest of the Old Testament law were "done away" by Jesus.  Yet the New Testament reinforces several of those commandments:
The commandments, "Do not commit adultery," "Do not murder," "Do not steal," "Do not covet," or whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: "Love your neighbor as yourself." - Romans 13:9
Do you steal at the poker table?  Do you wait for a moment when everyone's stepped away on a break, then do a "chip adjustment" in your favor?  Most players in tournaments are smart enough to know their chip count and catch any changes -- but away from there, you could be asking for trouble.

And by the way: you also can "steal" in poker by playing when you shouldn't.  Are you sneaking in online cash games on the job, stealing time away from your bosses?
He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need. - Ephesians 4:28
It's one thing to "steal a pot" with a misleading bet.  (We did it at least once in Saturday night's tournament.)  That's part of the game.  Beyond that, stealing is unethical at least -- and could put you in jail at worst.  Resist the temptation to do it.  And do something useful with the hands you're dealt -- even if it means you occasionally have to fold for a while.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

A Casino Christmas?

We mentioned Tuesday night's poker outing at our workplace, and one person admitted it sounded strange.  Why would someone visit a casino on Christmas Eve -- especially someone who claims to believe in Christ?

The answer is simple, yet may offend some people.  We don't believe Jesus Christ was born on December 25 -- and we find no command in the Bible to keep that day as a holiday, or even say "Merry Christmas."

We were surprised this year at how many radio ministries accepted the first part of that answer.  Yet they held "Christmas services," anyway -- noting that day was traditionally set aside by the early church.  But what did Jesus say about traditions?
....As it is written.... "They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men."  You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men. - Mark 7:6-8

If we hold on too tightly to our traditions, we'll wind up dropping God's commands.  Yes, even by celebrating Christmas.

There are certain days of the year when we do not play poker.  We believe God commanded us to do other things on those days.  For example....
There are six days when you may work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of rest, a day of sacred assembly.  You are not to do any work; wherever you live, it is a Sabbath to the Lord. - Leviticus 23:3

The state poker championship where we live is coming up in late January -- but it will begin at 10:00 on a Saturday morning.  That's the seventh-day Sabbath.  So we will stay away, and we won't feel hurt by that.  After all, we're the one doing things as God instructs.

Leviticus 23 goes on to list several annual "holy days" which occur during the year.  You won't find Christmas among them.-- but if you keep them with prayers to God for a proper understanding, you can find celebrations of Jesus in them.  (We can help provide that understanding if you're interested; please let us know.)

So we didn't celebrate Christmas -- but instead, we went to a place where people were even less likely to celebrate Christmas, and we talked about the things of Christ with them.  At least one person was thrown off-guard by what we said, and didn't really have a response.  But the day is coming when he'll have to say something....
That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. - Philippians 2:10-11

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Poker Night 416: Behold the Star

"Christmas Eve is the casino's slowest night of the year," a poker dealer told us at Kansas Star Casino Tuesday night.

Good -- that's in a way what we wanted.  With a Tuesday night off from work, we were able to drive to the casino (despite its ice-coated parking lot), to play in the weekly Deep Stack Tournament.  We're told it normally fills up with 70 players.  On this night, only 37 showed up -- but still leaving a first-place prize of more than $1,100.

People at our local poker room describe the casino players as top-level.  So we wanted to see how we'd measure up:

BLINDS: 25/25

IN THE POCKET: 4-Q of clubs

It's the first few minutes of play, and our table seems to be playing on the tight side.  A man to our left raises modestly to 75, and we decide to call with suited cards.  About four players out of nine are in.

ON THE FLOP: 5c-7c-7s

Close to a flush, but not quite.  The man to our left makes a continuation bet of 75, and we see no reason to be scared of it.  We call; as we remember it, three players remain in.


No flush yet -- but now a straight draw has emerged.  Yet that man to the left turns up the heat, by betting 175.  We have too many chances to hit it big (12, to be precise), so we stand committed to this pot.  We call, as does the player between us.


Like some gifts in December, that's not what we really wanted -- but it might be OK, anyway.  We check, and are a bit reassured when the other players check as well.

"I caught two pair on the river," we announce.  No one else caught anything!  We win the wild goose chase, and pick up several hundred chips.

We won several pots along the way, including a semi-bluff bet on the river with an Ace in our hand and nothing more.  Our stack went up and down, but we never had the breakthrough hand for a big gain -- not even when we were dealt pocket Aces.

We hung around more than three hours, as the blinds increased slowly.  But at the semifinal table, we were forced to push our last 3,500 chips with A-10.  The board didn't pair for us, and a man to our right paired an 8 to get us eliminated.  We shook his hand as we left -- and come to think of it, we don't recall anyone else doing that as they left the table.

Our final result: 14th place -- a finish in the top half.  That's good, but not great.  A final table was our real goal -- not to mention the money, with the payoff positions shrunk from 7 to 4.

MINISTRY MOMENT: During breaks, we showed our reflector card protector to players around us -- explaining it reminds us to reflect the light of Jesus Christ.

"What do you think of Jesus?" we asked the man at our immediate left with several other players listening.  "Is He your savior?"

"Well, I don't know," he answered.  "There have been so many bad things going on in the world.... so many catastrophes."

We certainly can't dispute that.  This year has brought everything from bombings at marathons to school shootings and devastating typhoons.  Yet Jesus knew such things would happen....
For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now -- and never to be equaled again. - Matthew 24:21

Many churches use the King James Version of this verse, and refer to a "great tribulation."
If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened. - Matthew 24:22

Jesus promises a potential "end of the world" will be avoided -- and for the sake of "elect" people, which many understand to mean believers in God.  And here's the even better news:
Immediately after the distress of those days.... At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn.  They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. - Matthew 24:29-30

Jesus (the "Son of Man") will be returning -- but the nation will be mourning.  Why?  Perhaps because they'll finally realize the Bible was right all along.  Jesus will show He meant what He said.
And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other. - Matthew 24:31

Perhaps you're celebrating the birth of Jesus on this day.  These verses remind us Jesus plans to come again - to save the world from destruction, and gather His followers together.  You can be among those who mourn that moment.  Or you can begin to believe and practice what Jesus and the Bible say -- becoming "elect" who reign with Him forever.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 145 final tables in 416 games (34.9%) - 24 cashes.  It appears our final total for Kansas tournaments in 2013 will be 7 final tables in 14 games with three cashes.  A 50-percent success rate is truly a blessing!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Laaking In Something?

Top poker players are ethical, right?  They don't take shortcuts or cheat, right?

Wellll.... tell that to the state of California.  One website reports Phil "Unabomber" Laak owes two years of back taxes there, for almost $25,000.

We don't know from that short story whether the state is right, or Laak has some explanation for this. (His Twitter feed seems to be as much about dining as poker these days.) But we know the ultimate right answer....
Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words.... "Tell us, then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?" - Matthew 22:15, 17

This was a potential trap for Jesus, since He claimed to be the Son of God.  Would such a Son of God consider Himself higher than laws of the land?

Jesus responded to this by asking for a Roman coin....
....And he asked them, "Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?"  "Caesar's," they replied.  Then he said to them, "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's." - Matthew 22:20-21

Jesus advised us to pay taxes to the government -- whether you like the rulers or not.  Sadly, some Christians spread ideas from time to time about ways to get out of paying them.  If they read their Bibles carefully, they shouldn't.
Give everyone what you owe him: if you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor. - Romans 13:7

As the end of 2013 approaches, consider this a friendly reminder to get your "poker math" in order.  Money you've won probably is taxable, at least at the U.S. federal level.

But oh yes -- did you notice what else Jesus said?  About giving "to God what is God's?"  There's something God expects as well.  Do you know what that is?  Comment if you'd like, and we'll discuss that in a future post.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Improving the Odds

There are all kinds of "poker games" for people who don't want to play, well, real poker.  We've mentioned in recent months our occasional interest in "Ultimate Texas Hold 'em," played at a table similar to blackjack.

But are those alternatives any better, when it comes to winning money?  We found a web page which offers revealing answers.  We were puzzled by the lack of Ultimate Texas Hold 'em on their list of table games, since those tables always seem to be the most crowded at casinos.  Yet surprisingly, you're more likely to beat the dealer at basic blackjack than at games such as "Caribbean Stud".

In every case, though, the odds are in favor of the house -- not you.  And if you think about it, this world works the same way.
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you use to lived when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. - Ephesians 2:1-2

The "ways of this world" tend to follow a "ruler" -- but who is that ruler?
The god of this world has blinded the minds of unbelievers.... - II Corinthians 4:4

Is that the God of creation?  No -- because the rest of the verse says: that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. - II Corinthians 4:4b

Why would the God of creation blind people to seeing Jesus Christ?  We have to admit a few church groups say God does this, perhaps without realizing it.  But Jesus referred to someone else along this line....
Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. - John 12:31

Back in Ephesians 2, some Bible translations say "prince" instead of "ruler."  So that prince is at work in disobedient people.  Would God work people toward sinning?  We don't think so.

The circumstantial evidence points to Satan the devil as that "ruler" and "god of this world" and "prince."  But did you notice something else about Ephesians 2 -- that people were dead?  Past tense?  That means they're not any longer.  How did that happen?  What turned their odds to a winning victorious life?
You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.... We are from God.... - I John 4:4, 6

We need Someone in us to overpower Satan.  There's only One who can effectively do that....
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.  The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. - Galatians 2:20

Is Jesus Christ in you, giving you a win at the table of life -- and hope for eternal life beyond this one?  We believe turning to Jesus turns the odds in your favor.  If you need help with that, please leave a comment and let us know.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Sharks and Lions

The big story in the poker world right now is the arrival of "card sharks" -- and we don't mean that old TV game show.

People apparently are targeting top online poker players for snooping.  Criminals infect the players' computers with a bug, which lets them look at the players' hands -- and even steal their online winnings.

It should go without saying that stealing is wrong (Deuteronomy 5:19).  And we can understand why players would be concerned about that. But did you realize you could be targeted by a notorious "thief" -- even if you only play poker at a neighborhood hangout once a week?
Be self-controlled and alert.  Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. - I Peter 5:8

It may sound wild at first, but the Bible warns Satan is after human beings.  Some people see Satan in this additional warning from Jesus....
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.  I am come that they may have life, and have it to the full. - John 10:10

We realize this could refer to false ministers (verse 8) -- but Satan wants to turn people away from the "life" Jesus offers.  It's the offer of eternal life, to live with Jesus forever (John 4:13-14).  So how do you escape this "lion"?
Resist him, standing firm in the faith.... - I Peter 5:9

Of course, this requires having "faith" in the first place.  The Bible recommends putting your faith in God:
And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who believes in him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. - Hebrews 11:6

Seek God by studying the Scriptures every day and asking for His help in all that you do. God will help your faith to grow, so you can be wise enough to outsmart the lion which is after your life -- and probably the "sharks" along the way as well.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Remember As You Play....

The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know. - I Corinthians 8:2

Just when you think you've seen it all....

That phrase is fitting in all walks of life.  It could be a straight flush topping quads.  It could be that last-second college football play, not far from where we used to live.  It sadly could also be a savage act of crime or violence.

If you've played poker for years, it's easy to think you know it all.  You may have played thousands of hands in person or online.  You may have won a bracelet or two.  But our verse is a reminder that we are not the sum of all knowledge.

Even classic cartoons illustrate the silliness of thinking we know everything.  We think there's a better approach to take when you head for the table....
Do not deceive yourselves.  If any one of you thinks he is wise by the standards of this age, he should become a "fool" so that he may become wise.  For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God's sight. - I Corinthians 3:18-19

That doesn't mean you have to play dumb -- although we've tried it a time or two around people we've never met, and it can work.  But it does mean playing and conducting yourself in a way which indicates a humble approach:
He has showed you, O man, what is good.  And what does the Lord require of you?  To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. - Micah 6:8
May you "grow in grace and knowledge" (II Peter 3:18) - not only of Jesus Christ, but in how to play poker successfully and honorably.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

The Wise Course

In a recent post we asked how you know as a poker player (or elsewhere) you're following your heart, as opposed to good godly counsel.

We think the key lies in a word called wisdom.  The problem is that not all wisdom is good and godly:
But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth.  Such "wisdom" does not come from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. - James 3:14-15

These are words which cut to the core.  Why do you play poker?  For fun?  To make money?  To get even with another player, who did something to you in the past?  Your answer may determine the sort of wisdom you're trying to use.
Who is wise and understanding among you?  Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility and that comes from wisdom. - James 3:13

In other words, a wise person doesn't seek self-promotion -- such as stories of how brilliantly you steamrolled the other players at the table.
But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. - James 3:17

It's not in the nature of a poker player to be submissive -- but sometimes it's the only logical course.

If K-Q-J-10 are showing and you have a 9, what do you do if an opponent makes a confident big bet?  Realize you're beat, submit to it and fold -- or dare that opponent to prove he holds an Ace?

We realize some of this comes down to reading whether or not your opponent is bluffing.  If you're good at that, it's probably due to the "considerate" side of wisdom - under the definition of "careful thought."

If all of this has convinced you wisdom is running low in your life, remember one more statement from James:
If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. - James 1:5

But be sure you ask for God's wisdom -- not that other kind.  Wise words in prayer can matter every bit as much as wise play at a poker table.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Follow the Leader

"Changing out 100!" announced the dealer at our Ultimate Texas Hold 'em table. The dealer apparently wore a well-hidden microphone, because a "pit boss" came within moments to verify the transaction.

The dealer explained to us he had to get approval for any chip exchange of $75 or more.

"So in other words," we noted, "you're one under authority."

The phrase stumped him for a moment, so we explained.  "You're under his authority.  I read that in a book once."  Moments later, we explained that book was the Bible....
The centurion replied, "Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof.  But just say the word, and my servant will be healed.  For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me.  I tell this one, 'Go,' and he goes; and that one, 'Come,' and he comes.  I say to my servant, 'Do this,' and he does it." - Matthew 8:8-9

The phrase about being "under authority" actually was spoken to Jesus Christ, instead of by him.  Historical legend claims a Roman centurion was an officer over 100 soldiers (although the actual number may have been lower).

This man came to Jesus to have a servant healed of paralysis (verses 5-6).  And he was convinced the mere statement of healing by the Lord would do the job.
When Jesus heard this, he was astonished and said to those following him, "I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith." - Mathew 8:10

Faith in Christ paid off for that centurion and his servant, as the servant "was healed at that very hour" (verse 13).  So we would ask two questions from this:

1. Are you under authority in your life?

2.  If so, to whom?

Professional poker players may seem like free spirits.  But have you noticed how many of them wear sponsorship logos at the table?  Those endorsement deals provide a steady income, we suppose -- but players probably are obligated to do what the endorsers desire.  When they do, they're under the authority of those sponsors.

Even if you don't have a sponsor, you're "under authority" at a poker table.  A Tournament Director or dealer enforces the rules and settles disputes about hands -- whether you like the outcome or not.

In the classic words of a Bob Dylan song, we all "have to serve somebody."  Believe it or not, even Jesus Christ did while walking on Earth:
Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, "My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.  Yet not as I will, but as you will." - Matthew 26:39

Jesus offered this prayer at least twice, in the hours before He was crucified (verse 42) - and perhaps stunningly, God the Father told His perfect holy Son no.  It was God's will that Jesus suffer and die.  Jesus accepted that authority from His Father -- and was rewarded with a resurrection to the Father's right hand in heaven.

So what about you?  Are you under God's authority?  It's really for your good, because you can enjoy a future resurrection to eternal life as Jesus did.  Accept it by putting your faith in God and what Jesus has done on your behalf.  It will be change worth far more than $100 in chips.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Poker Day 415: One Card Too Many?

Even though the name has changed, the first Sunday of every month remains the "Big Sunday" at River City Poker Room -- with a $50 buy-in, and a shot at a $1,000 top prize.  Still stinging over our big casino loss, we wondered if this might be a "third chance" to refill our envelope.  Tests would come early, even though blinds were lengthy and small at first:

BLINDS: 100/200

IN THE POCKET: Q-5 of clubs (suit may not be precise)

The tables are full, but the action at ours has been relatively tight so far.  We've tried to be active and play sensible hands, but our starting start of 20,000 has dropped by about 3,000.  Our notes don't show the suit of these cards -- but we assume they were suited, because we'd like to get in for the minimum in the Dealer position.  Except a woman in the Big Blind raises to 700.

"You realize it's only 200," we jokingly suggest.

"She wants your 200," the man in the Small Blind answers in her behalf.  Clearly.  So we call, and about half the table is in.

"Now she wants your 700," Mr. Small Blind notes.


She may want it, but this flop could make it hard to get it.  We have top two pair.  The table checks, but we don't.

"All right, then, we say - and bet 1,000.  The woman folds -- but then comes a surprise from a man across the table.  He raises all the way to 5,000.  This gives us a pause.  But we conclude he only has one pair - certainly not something like 3-3.  We call.  Everyone else steps aside.


There's no flush threat showing.  But our opponent now fires again, betting 5,000 more.  Now we're concluding he has pocket Aces.  But if he does, we're still ahead.  It's a "lump in your throat" moment, but we call this big bet again.


This is absolutely the last thing we want to see.  If our opponent has an Ace, he just hit a straight -- and if he bets big again, we might face an early all-in moment of truth.

He thinks for a moment, then does something which happily surprises us.  He checks.  We check as well.

"Two pair," he says -- showing 2-4.  He made running pairs, but misses the open-ended straight draw.  We show our Q-5, and are thankful!  The lack of an Ace wins us a huge pot -- and we're well above the starting line, at 28,100 chips.

Our day went up and down that way -- a few good pot wins, a few losses.  The wins outnumbered the losses to the point that we reached a high of 52,000 chips.  But rising blinds and shrinking tables eventually did us in.  After a couple of all-in escapes, we tried again with A-10 -- but ran into Q-Q.  The board didn't save us, and we finished close to the semifinal table in 18th place.

MINISTRY MOMENT: A-K in the Big Blind brought us a "double-up" late in the tournament, which kept us around a few extra minutes.

"PTL!  I'd write if I was online right now," we said to the table.

"What does PTL mean?" the dealer asked.  We're glad she asked.

"Praise the Lord," we said.

Look through the Psalms of the Bible, and you'll find all sorts of reasons to praise God.  For instance:
I will praise the Lord, who counsels me; even at night my heart instructs me. - Psalm 16:7

Uh-oh -- we have to treat this verse with care.  God can provide counsel, if we study His Word and listen carefully to people who preach and teach it.  But what about David's heart in this case?
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? - Jeremiah 17:9 (KJV)

We think Jeremiah is speaking in general terms here about the human condition.  So should David have followed the instruction of his heart?  Not always -- because at times he committed serious sinful mistakes, such as lusting after another man's wife and having that man killed to claim her as his own (II Samuel 11).

So how do you know when your heart is talking, as opposed to the counsel of God?  This can matter at poker tables, as well as other places.  Offer a comment if you'd like; we'll look at this more deeply in an upcoming post.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 145 final tables in 415 games (34.9%) - 24 cashes.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Too Long at the Fair

We were due for a night like this.  We went to Kansas Star Casino hoping again to make quick money playing Ultimate Texas Hold 'em - but lousy cards came our way four hands in a row.  At a ten-dollar table, we lost $90 in no time.

We left and walked around the casino, pondering what to do.  Do we cash in our remaining $10 in chips and go home?  Do we dare risk that $10 on a cheap blackjack game?  (No, we concluded -- every time we passed a blackjack table, the dealer was getting heartbreaking wins.)  Do we reach into the "envelope of blessings" we carry for the remaining money inside?

After several minutes of sports-watching and pondering, we decided to reach.  We made change for the remaining $100, and only plunked down $50 at the table.  And what do you know -- the tide turned in our favor!  Several quick wins transformed our $60 into $160.  We had the money back, plus $10.

We knew that streak had to end eventually -- and it did on the next hand.  We could have packed up, left with a $10 loss and thanked God for a good comeback.  But we stuck around, hoping to get back on the "plus side."  Only we didn't.  The losses returned -- and we wound up going home with a $160 loss.

At that moment we were reminded of a man at a regular poker table who talked of losing $300 in a cash game.  "Why don't we ever get out?" he moaned.

That's a very good question.  Perhaps part of the answer can be found in a very familiar Bible verse:
For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.  Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. - I Timothy 6:10

Notice carefully: the love of money isn't the root of evil.... but it's certainly one of them.  We can be so eager after winning a little that we stick around, dreaming of winning a lot -- and the law of averages comes back to bite you.
You want something but don't get it.  You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want.  You quarrel and fight.  You do not have, because you do not ask God. - James 4:2

This may sound strange -- but looking back to the start of the night, we probably didn't pray enough about what was going to happen inside the casino.  We certainly didn't pray for God's wisdom in being a light to other people. (We tried to be in the second trip; that's an item for another post.)  Ignore God in prayer, and He well could ignore you....
Come near to God, and he will come near to you.  Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. - James 4:8

We take the blame for not following the advice of fictional TV anchorman Ron Burgundy: "Let me out at the top." That door was open.  We didn't take it.  We needed to keep a wise godly head at that moment -- instead of waiting until we drove home, confessing our faults to God and resolving not to go back to that casino for awhile.

Thursday, November 28, 2013


It's a bit embarrassing to admit this, but we often forget to tip dealers at poker tables after we win hands.  Perhaps it's because the game is built so much on taking -- and we became used to having the players act as dealers in other poker tournaments at other places.

How much should you tip a dealer in a poker room?  While the 15-percent line at restaurants is commonly known, no one ever gave us good advice for poker.  We found one online article which actually recommends a 33-percent tip in some small cash games.  That can feel like a lot, if your chip stack is small.  But it errs on the side of giving.

We bring this up because today marks a day for giving thanks in the U.S.  Some people say "thank you" is one of the hardest things for people to say in our society.  So a tip for your poker dealer is one way to offer thanks in a physical way.

But in reality, Thanksgiving Day should be a time for thanking the One who provides all our blessings -- even the physical strength to sit down at a poker table and win pots.
You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God. - II Corinthians 9:11

Many people, groups and businesses use this time of year to perform charitable acts -- but many times they come across as self-promotion.  We think there's a better way to be generous, in a way which will make God happy:
But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret.  Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. - Matthew 6:3-4

Giving thanks, as well as tips, can be every bit as effective in private.

What's that -- you say you see nothing to be thankful about?  We disagree.  We went through the Bible, and found dozens of reasons to be thankful to God.  Read this Bible study article for the list, along with other thoughts about thanksgiving.  And may you be thankful every day, not simply at a table with a turkey.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Meek First

A visitor's comment on one of our recent posts brought up this verse -- one you're admittedly not likely to hear at a poker table:
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. - Matthew 5:5

Meek is one of those words that tends to get confined to church discussions.  Yet Jesus said it's a trait believers need to show in their lives.

The New Testament was written primarily in Greek -- and the Greek word for meek can mean "mild" or "humble."  Our home dictionary points out another meaning, which has become too common: "spineless."

Poker players without spines soon will be without chips.  Weakly folding to other players' raises can make sense if you have 2-5 offsuit -- but when you have K-K or Q-Q, it's more logical to take a stand.  After all, your opponent could be testing your spine by raising with nothing.

That's why we think the New Testament rendering for "meek" is better.  You can play solid poker in a mild-mannered, humble way.  For instance, have you ever quietly raised with K-K with a friendly smile on your "poker face?"
The meek will he guide in judgment: and the meek will he teach his way. - Psalm 25:9 (KJV)

Arrogant people are far less likely to accept correction and instruction -- whether it's about a misplayed hand or godly living.  Yet meekness can bring improvement and success.
The Lord lifts up the meek: he casts the wicked down to the ground. - Psalm 147:6 (KJV)

Oh yes -- did you notice what Jesus said the meek will inherit?  It may surprise you to learn it's not a place in heaven:
....With your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.  You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth. - Revelation 5:9-10

God will send Jesus to set up His Kingdom here on earth.  If you can accept that Bible statement with meekness, you'll be well on the way to being able to play with meekness at the table -- and possibly winning as you do.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

A Tempting Secret

We returned to National League of Poker this week for the first time in months.  It turned out well - recovering from an early all-in moment of desperation with a flopped flush to finish second out of 153 players.  (Sadly, only first place paid off with money again.)

Along the way, we chatted with a man who's also written about poker online.  In fact, he claims he found "the secret to life" from several months of poker.  He sums it up in two words: "overcoming temptation" -- which he defines in several ways in our link.

He points out it's a Biblical secret -- and he's right.  Even though Jesus recommended this prayer....
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. - Matthew 6:13

....the facts of life are that moments of temptation will come, at the poker table or away from it.  Even Jesus faced it while walking the earth:
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are -- yet was without sin. - Hebrews 4:15

The first part of Matthew 4 and Luke 4 detail how Satan the devil tempted Jesus.  Yet the Lord said no through it all -- which is how we need to respond to sinful temptations as well.
No temptation has seized you except what is common to man.  And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.  But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it. - I Corinthians 10:13

Pray for God to sound alarm bells when temptations happen -- whether it's an all-in moment at the table or something more serious in your life.  Ask Him to show where the escape route is.  Then don't be afraid to take it, even if it makes you look wimpy.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Big Giver

Getting a seat can take some waiting.  But we're finding we like "Ultimate Texas Hold 'em" games in casinos a lot.  This weekend we scored our third cash gain in as many tries.  And on top of that, the atmosphere around the table seems friendlier -- since everyone competes against the dealer, not each other.

"What I'd like," said a man to our left Saturday night at Kansas Star Casino, "is a royal flush or a straight flush.  I'd give everyone at the table $100."

Aha -- sounds good!  But then he added: "The last time I made a straight flush was 1987."

"So you're due," we told him hopefully.

"Overdue," a woman to his left added.

Straight flushes don't happen very often, of course.  And for that matter, neither does the attitude of that man -- especially when it comes to poker.  It's an attitude of giving, and it's downright Biblical.
Give, and it will be given to you.  A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap.  For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. - Luke 6:38

In a typical poker room, giving is the last thing on people's minds.  A gain in a cash game normally means taking money from other players.  Winning in a tournament requires getting all the chips in play from the competition.  Sadly, many people live their lives with the same mindset.
What causes fights and quarrels among you?  Don't they come from your desires that battle within you?  You want something but don't get it.  You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want.  You quarrel and fight.  You do not have, because you do not ask God. - James 4:1-2

God is ready to provide your needs -- if you ask Him.  Oh, and don't forget....
When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. - James 4:3

Maybe we should all try asking God in prayer for blessings that we can share with other people -- especially with people in more difficult situations than our own.  That approach can fulfill something we hinted at in our last post....
Cast your bread upon the waters, for after many days you will find it again. - Ecclesiastes 11:1
On this night, the royal flush and straight flush didn't come.  But a good example of Christianity did -- at least in word.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Remember As You Play....

Whoever watches the wind will not plant; whoever looks at the clouds will not reap. - Ecclesiastes 11:4

Some poker players get reputations as "rocks" or "tight," because they only get involved where they have a strong chance of winning.  Sometimes that approach gets results; sometimes it doesn't.

We were reminded the other night through Christian radio of an interesting section of Ecclesiastes.  It includes our verse above, which sounds like it relates to farming -- but one poker players might summarize this way: "Scared money doesn't win."

Wait for the perfect moment to make a move at the poker table, and you might run out of moments.  The odds of being dealt pocket Aces (or, for that matter, any card combination without regard to suit) are 220 to 1.  Since most tournaments have quick-rising blinds, the patient approach ultimately hits a wall of time and reality.  So what's a poker player to do?
Cast your bread upon the waters, for after many days you will find it again.... Sow your seed in the morning, and at evening let not your hands be idle, for you do not know which will succeed, whether this or that, or whether both will do equally well. - Ecclesiastes 11:1, 6

Despite the commonly-used phrase "Christian conservative," God inspires these words to encourage a certain amount of risk-taking.

Where do you draw the line with that?  Ahhhh - that's the hard part.  Different people set different lines which they don't cross.  Those lines about when to stay in and when to get out get drawn through years of experience.

So let's open this up for discussion.  Where do you draw lines in what poker hands you play -- either pre-flop or beyond?

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Poker Day 414: O-No-Maha

If the game is nothing but Texas Hold 'em, we probably can hold our own.  But add other games, and things could be different.  The current Sunday format at River City Poker Room has alternating blinds: first Texas Hold 'em, then high-hand Omaha.  That meant things started well for us today.  And then....

BLINDS: 200/400

IN THE POCKET: J-J-3-2 (Omaha)

We own an early pot with A-3, when the Ace paired.  But in the last hand, we lost several thousand chips with Q-J-9-8.  Even though the board showed J-10-A-8 to give us a well-hidden straight (you can only use two of your four cards to make a hand in Omaha), an Ace on the river gave a man to our left quad Aces.

Surely that can't happen again, so we raise to 1,000 with a good pocket pair.  About half the players at our table of six calls.

ON THE FLOP: K-10-6 (third card may not be precise)

The flop is a rainbow, which works to our advantage.  But without top pair, we decide to play carefully instead of making a continuation bet.  We check; so do everyone else.


The board pairs -- but we suspect someone with a King would have bet by now.  So sitting first in the order, we bet 700.  A player in the middle of the table folds, but a man on the other side calls.


A third King gives us a full house, and we see no need to hesitate.  We bet 3,000.

"I'll raise," our opponent says -- a double to 6,000.  This is a bit puzzling.  He probably has a pocket pair for his own full house, but ours is too high to let go.  We have to call.

And then.... the man shows a King.  Quads again!  We lose to a huge hand for the second time in a row.  He gets a $50 cash bonus, while we reach the conclusion this is not our day.

It turned out a third person at our table hit quads during the same Omaha blind -- but it wasn't us.  Our stack weakened to the point where we went all-in for our next 1,000 minutes later playing Texas Hold 'em with A-3 of hearts.  The blind was A-4-4 -- but of course, that gave another player three of a kind.  His 4's made us hit the door, with a badly-wounded 12th place.

MINISTRY MOMENT: "This is GOD'S day, sir!" the dealer at another table exclaimed at one point.  "Don't use language like that on God's day."

This dealer has a habit of being very irreverent -- throwing out comic insults (at least in his mind) without regard to race, gender or religion.  But we used that moment to comment to the players at our table, out of his earshot.

"Some of us went to church yesterday.  That's why we're here on Sunday."

We've mentioned here before that we keep a seventh-day Sabbath because that's what God instructed in the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:8-11), and it's the example Jesus set ....
He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom.  And he stood up to read. - Luke 4:16

Our study Bible says Jesus set an example of "regular worship."  That's true -- but the Bible specifies he kept Sabbaths in the synagogue, which many Jews do to this day.

Yet as we think about it, the dealer could in one sense be right.  That's because of another Bible verse....
This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. - Psalm 118:24

We've heard some preachers mention this on the Sabbath, and try to confine this verse to one day of the week.  Our study Bible notes it also could be "a reference to Passover or the Feast of Tabernacles."

But hold on -- didn't God create every day of the week?  Genesis 1-2 shows He created all seven of them.  So we think the point of the verse in Psalm is to give God thanks for every day, rejoicing that He's given us one more day to live.  In this season of U.S. Thanksgiving Day, it's something to consider -- being thankful on more than one Thursday in November.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 145 final tables in 414 games (35.0%) - 24 cashes.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Ryan's Hope

The Detroit Lions haven't won a pro football title in almost 60 years.  Could it be that someone wearing a Lions jersey will break some kind of curse?

 Michigan native Ryan Riess won the World Series of Poker Main Event this week.  He went to the final table in fifth, and overcame a chip disadvantage at the start of heads-up play -- all to win more than $8.3 million.

Riess's Twitter feed includes some X-rated language about his anticipation of the final table.  But today he wrote this:

Well that was a profitable trip to Vegas. Thanks again to everybody who helped make this possible

Riess uses that hashtag often -- and we hope he means what it says.  We should all realize our blessings, and give thanks to the One who provides them:
The blessing of the Lord brings wealth, and he adds no trouble to it. - Proverbs 10:22

A traditional church song says, "Praise God from whom all blessings flow."  But there's another verse in Proverbs which might cause a quandary for poker players:
A faithful man will be richly blessed, but one eager to get rich will not go unpunished. - Proverbs 28:20

At its core, poker is all about "getting rich."  Riess couldn't claim the WSOP bracelet until he possessed all the chips on the table.  So what gives here?

Perhaps the key word in the verse is eager.  The Contemporary English Version translates it as "get rich quick."  While building a big stack of chips early can be helpful, the Main Event isn't a one-day tournament.  It took hours of table grinding over several months to decide a champion.  Get overanxious to win big in a hurry and you may wind up making mistakes which cost you everything.

The first part of that verse actually is the key part for us.  God promises to bless a person who is faithful.  Are you faithful to God in the way you live - including how you conduct yourself in a poker room?

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Survivor: Las Vegas

Perhaps the World Series of Poker Main Event should have that title above.  Out of 6,352 players, only nine will sit down at the final table in Las Vegas Monday evening.

The biographies of the finalists show a range of backgrounds -- players from Israel and the Netherlands, along with the U.S.; players who like to surf and play table tennis on their free time.  But we're struck by the fact that at least two of the "November Nine" are not full-time poker pros.  One is called simply a "hobbyist" -- which in a way describes us as well.

People who do something only on a part-time basis can have a little bit of success.  (Check our final table numbers on the days we play.)  Full-time poker players probably do better in the long run, because they utilize their skills on a regular basis.  And God requires a similar commitment from us:
So then, those who suffer according to God's will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good. - I Peter 4:19

Sometimes you can spot the difference between a halfway-committed follower of God and one who's, well, all-in.  Their words or actions give them away.  If you can see it, imagine how quickly God can spot it.
Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm.  Let nothing move you. Always give ourselves fully to the  work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. - I Corinthians 15:58

Work for God will be rewarded in the end -- especially if you work for Him until the end:
....Because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free. - Ephesians 6:8

So who will be rewarded in Las Vegas this week?  We think JC Tran will utilize his experience and chip lead, to take it all.  What's your prediction?

Friday, November 1, 2013

Keeping Your Balance

We asked in a recent post what might be holding you back from taking up poker -- even if only at a free "just for fun" event.  After thinking that over, we think an important P.S. needs to be added.

Some people might be wary of poker because it can lead to a gambling addiction.  Perhaps they've had other bad habits (smoking, alcohol, etc.), and they realize the risk of trading one addiction for another.

That's a legitimate concern.  An important principle, in both poker and life in general, is that of moderation:
Let your moderation be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. - Philippians 4:5 (KJV)

We've heard ministers say things are not necessarily wrong -- but how you use them can make them wrong.  Notice what else the apostle Paul (who wrote Philippians) advised along this line....
Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses. - I Timothy 5:23

Yes, a Biblical apostle endorsed wine-drinking -- but not to an extreme.  He wrote "a little," not a lot.  And everyone has a different threshold with alcohol: some can tolerate more than others, without getting into serious trouble.  That can be true with poker as well.

So it's OK to start playing poker with a cautious approach.  That can be true with handling your cards and chips -- and even with playing the game at all.  If you find yourself feeling drawn to an addiction, pull away for awhile.  Walk with care -- and handle your play that way, too.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Cash Game at Grand Casino: Good, Better....

The idea sounded odd from the beginning.  We buy a new Bible on a Saturday night -- then go to a casino to win money to pay for it?!

We didn't need to win the money, really.  But that was the itinerary last Saturday night.  After buying a new Bible at a mall, we drove to The Grand Casino in central Oklahoma.  It was a different opportunity to share the things of God -- even though an old phrase came to our mind several times during the drive: a fool and his money are soon parted.

Unlike some poker rooms, Grand Casino offered a choice of games on a weekend night.  With a long  waiting list for traditional Texas Hold 'em, we chose the shorter wait of Limit Hold 'em -- with set bets at every level.

BLINDS: 1/3 (Limit 3/6)

IN THE POCKET: Ace-10 of diamonds

We took $60 to a full ten-player table, and won an early pot with a high flush on the flop.  But some chases have failed since then, and now we're down to a lowly $9.  We need to find a good hand to play -- and fast.  We call, prepared to push if someone raises.  But no one does.

ON THE FLOP: 10-6-6

With two pair and top kicker, the decision is obvious.  We go all-in for our remaining 6 (two times the standard bet).  A couple of players call.  We hope they're chasing something else.

ON THE TURN: 3 (as best we recall)

The minimum bet is now six, and a man across from us keeps betting -- with another man calling.


Now we feel better -- with a hidden top two pair.  But the man across from us bets again, and gets called again.

We turn over our cards with hopeful confidence.  But the man across the table shows 6-8.  He hit three of a kind on the flop!  And he had us beaten all along.  We hake his hand, and take our leave -- as another cash game ends with us busted.

MINISTRY MOMENT: We won almost all or money back playing Ultimate Texas Hold 'em (the small table version) on the first floor.  And as we did, a dealer noticed the WWJD bracelet on our list.  That led to a discussion of church practices, which seemed to clear the table of other players.

"What does your group do that's different?" he asked.

We explained several things which make our worship distinctive from other Christian denominations -- most notably the keeping of a seventh-day Sabbath.  By that, we mean worshiping on Saturday as opposed to Sunday.  Did you realize that's "WWJD" -- what worship Jesus did?
And He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up; and as was his custom, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath, and stood up to read. - Luke 4:16 (NASB)

The Bible calls Jesus Christ the "head of the church" (Ephesians 5:23) -- yet that head of the church went to synagogues on the "Jewish" Sabbath!  Of course, some would note the "church" didn't really begin until after Jesus was resurrected.  Yet that was the Lord's example.  And despite what some white supremacists might try to tell you, that's because Jesus was Jewish:
For it is clear that our Lord descended from Judah, and in regard to that tribe Moses said nothing about priests. - Hebrews 7:14

While Jesus came from heaven to earth, His "family line" was Jewish (Luke 3:23, 33).  So He kept the Jewish custom of a seventh-day Sabbath -- and He never mentioned changing that day, before or after the resurrection.

That's one main reason why we never play poker on Friday nights or Saturday afternoons.  We try to put God before any poker payday.  We'll have more from our Grand Casino trip in upcoming posts.

CASH GAME COUNTER: 2 gains, 6 losses, 1 even in 9 sessions - down $156.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Learning Curve

And now today's poker lesson.  Actually, it came from an online chat we played some time back.  While we don't remember all the details, we suspect this was a successful "all-in" moment:

Fish:  Bluff at a dry potfoolish it only helps the all in player when you chase off the others
Dealer:  aloncapecod wins Main Pot ($1185)
Me:  Thank you. (scribble scribble)
Fish:  I figured that bernadette needs the help
Me:  We all need help from time to time - right?

We'll leave it up to you to determine if Fish's advice is correct.  Debate it in our comments if you'd like.

But our pretend "scribbling" of the advice is a reminder that there's always something new to learn at a poker table.  Former WSOP Main Event champion Jamie Gold once said on TV he was still "learning" the game.  If he's still learning, shouldn't we all?

And you know, that's true in life as well.  It's good to learn new things every day.  In fact, a book filled with knowledge recommends it:
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. - Matthew 11:29

The "me" here is Jesus Christ.  The Son of God gave advice that is timeless, yet easy for all of us to overlook in the daily rush of things.  But Jesus also said....
Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. - Matthew 5:48 (NASB)

It takes a lifetime to become "perfect" -- or as the original Greek says, "complete."  To learn the sort of perfection Jesus had (as in sinless and holy) takes daily effort.

We recommend quality "learning" time in the Bible - then a conscious effort to apply what God's Word shows you there.
But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.  To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen. - II Peter 3:18 (KJV)

Can you say "amen" to that - because you're doing it?

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Equal opportunity?

The ultimate "final table" in poker is only a couple of weeks away.  And again this year, all the survivors at the World Series of Poker Main Event have one thing in common.  They're all male.

This fact hasn't been overlooked by some women.  One wrote a column pointing out only four percent of the entries in this year's Main Event were female -- and making comparisons with corporate boards.  We're not sure that comparison is completely valid.  After all, anyone with $10,000 could buy a place at the Main Event -- regardless of gender, skin color or national origin.

But the author's real point seems to be that women shouldn't be afraid to sit down and play poker.  And that point seems valid to us -- a point equally valid for believers in God.

Sometimes fear creates stereotypes, and vice versa.  People might not play poker based on fears of what others around the table might think -- or what their friends away from the table might think.  But is that how a believer should live?
There is no fear in love.  But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.  The one who fears is not made perfect in love. - I John 4:18

This verse is based on the understanding that God is love (verses 8, 16), and we should love our brothers (verses 20-21).  It's very possible a "brother" (or even a sister) in Christ could be waiting at a poker table -- or God could use you to develop one through your witness and example to them.
Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe. - Proverbs 29:25

We've heard ministers put it this way: Let God be your confidence.  And God is the One who truly should be feared -- not humans:
But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell.  Yes, I tell you, fear him. - Luke 12:5

Are you afraid of losing money at the table?  That's understandable.  Then find free places to play.  That's how we started.  If your town doesn't have live games, there are plenty of places to play for free online -- and who knows, you might score a win every once in a while.

We've played in tournaments over the years where women have done very well, making final tables while we stared from the outside.  They certainly were not excluded.  So what's holding you back from the table?  And even more importantly, what's holding you back from approaching God's group -- joining others in worshiping and following Him?

Thursday, October 17, 2013

A Little or a Lot

One of our posts this week examined the success rate of online gamblers.  We found it interesting that the people who wager the least wind up winning most often, in terms of percentage.

If you think about it, that concept is true with many things in life.  Working during the week is a good, profitable thing -- but working non-stop in extra-long shifts can lead to burnout, disconnected family relations and other problems.  Here's another example, which comes from a surprising source....
Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses. - I Timothy 5:23

Yes, you read that correctly - a Bible verse actually recommends drinking wine.  And this was recommended to an evangelist (II Timothy 4:5)!  But note the wording: "a little wine."  Not a lot.  The Bible indeed warns against that:
Do not join those who drink too much wine or gorge themselves on meat, for drunkards and gluttons become poor, and drowsiness clothes them in rags. - Proverbs 23:20-21

Go too far with alcohol, and you risk big trouble.  Have a little, and there can be benefits -- something in fact medical research has shown with wine on a "Mediterranean diet."  The research with online gamblers indicates the same kind of thinking applies there as well.

There's a church-sounding word for all this....
Let your moderation be known to all men.  The Lord is at hand. - Philippians 4:5 (KJV)

Other Bible translations use "gentle" instead of "moderation."  Yet it's along the lines of the same principle - not going to extremes in the things we do or say.

We know from personal experience that if you sit too long at a cash game poker table, you're asking for trouble.  The odds can turn against you, and big losses can come -- or you can become so tired that you make bad decisions.  So moderation matters in poker as well.  As a beer company put it well years ago: know when to say when.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Poker Day 413: Three's a Crowd

Anything can happen when we walk into Arrowhead Poker on a Sunday afternoon.  For instance, the poker room could change its name.  We found Sunday that's happened; a sale to new owners means it's now called River City Poker Room.  But another Sunday adjustment proved to be more bothersome for us....

BLINDS: 1,000/2,000

FORMAT: No-Limit Omaha, high hand only


The managers decided to play "alternate blind" rules -- one blind of Texas Hold 'em, the next of Omaha, then back and forth.  But under Omaha rules, only two of our cards can be used to complete a five-card hand.  In other words, our "three of a kind" pre-flop is really only a high pair.  But it's a good pair, and some loose-playing losses have knocked us down to 7,000 chips.

Add all that up, and we're going all-in with this hand.  Another man calls us, and turns over J-6-7 (we forget what his fourth card was).  He has our missing Jack, but we still have the lead.

ON THE FLOP: 3-6-7

Well, we did have the lead.  He now has two pair, and our only real hope is for the board to pair.


Nope, not that one -- and we don't have an open-ended straight draw, because we have to use two of our cards to complete the best hand.


His two pair knocks us or in 14th place -- and while our chip situation really left us little choice except to push there, we learned a lesson about a format we seldom play.  A high pair in your hand in Omaha is good.  But three of something actually is a bit confining; it limits the kind of high-level hands you can make.

MINISTRY MOMENT: "Are you going to zap people with that?" a man to our right asked about our card protector.  No, not really - it was a simple AA battery.

"I brought it to remind me," we explained, "I receive power from the Holy Spirit of God.  Do you believe in the Holy Spirit?"

"Of course," the man answered.  "I'm a Catholic."

Uhhhhhh -- hold on a minute.  We didn't correct the man's explanation.  But who says the Holy Spirit is only given to certain denominations or church groups?  Some early apostles had to be correct about that kind of thinking....
After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: "Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe.  God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us.  He made no distinction between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith." - Acts 15:7-9

Peter learned this lesson through an encounter with a man named Cornelius, which is detailed in Acts 10.  It appears people of all backgrounds can receive God's Holy Spirit... if....
We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him. - Acts 5:32

That's a very big if.  If you think you have the Spirit, ask yourself: are you obeying God?  As fully as you know how to do it?  If you're not, confess it to God in prayer -- then get busy doing the things which God enjoys.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 145 final tables in 413 games (35.1%) - 24 cashes.  Our string of three final tables in a row at, uh, that poker room is over.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Against All Odds

Why do you never hear about professional poker players winning slot machine jackpots in casinos -- or scoring a big win at the blackjack table?

Perhaps they know something ordinary "high rollers" don't.  An essay in the Wall Street Journal has a revealing analysis of gamblers in online casinos.

Since the newspaper might put the essay behind a "pay wall," we'll sum it up this way: over a two-year span....

Just 11% of players ended up in the black over the full period, and most of those pocketed less than $150.... Big losers of more than $5,000 among these heavy gamblers outnumbered big winners by a staggering 128 to 1. 

But wait, you say -- poker is different from ordinary gambling.  This report took that argument into account.  From "Sitting at the Virtual Poker Table"....

About one-third of the poker players classified as "most involved" by the Harvard researchers ended up winning money over time, while just 10% of the rest ended up in the black.

So when it comes to poker, it can pay to play on a regular basis.  But when it comes to other casino games, the opposite is true:

The lightest gamblers—the 10% of customers who placed the fewest wagers over the two years—also had the highest winning percentage. About 17% of them ended up in the black—tough odds but still better than the dismal 5.4% winning percentage of the heaviest gamblers.

There are many conclusions we can draw from this study.  One of them is contained in the book of Proverbs:
Of what use is money in the hand of a fool, since he has no desire to get wisdom? - Proverbs 17:16

That verse sounds harsh.  But how many casino players take time to study their chances of winning at the games they play -- for instance, at a slot machine?  With a little thought and research, some money could be saved.

(We should note here the proverb "A fool and his money are soon parted" is not from the Bible -- but it rather surprisingly does have church roots.)

The study also indicates in poker, practice can make perfect -- but not completely perfect.  We'd compare it to a baseball player.  If he gets a hit three times out of ten, he's considered very good.  he Bible talks about "practice" as well....
Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them to practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.  The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundations on the rock. - Matthew 7:24-25

Practicing the teachings of Jesus does not make you immune from storms - but you'll be able to weather them better.

There's one more Biblical point to make from this study.... but we'll wait to see if you can find it.  We'll bring it up in a future post.

Thursday, October 10, 2013


It's tempting to say the other "horseshoe" has dropped in the Tim Giardina case - as in Horseshoe Casino.  The navy officer we mentioned here recently has been stripped of a top position with U.S. Strategic Command and demoted one star.  It's all apparently because he's accused of bringing counterfeit chips to an Iowa poker room.

We've already pointed out one lesson of Giardina's story.  Here's another potential one.  Keeping in mind Giardina is innocent of criminal charges until proven guilty, we'd offer him this advice.  If you feel compelled to cheat at poker to be successful at it, maybe you shouldn't be playing cash-game poker in the first place.

The Bible offers several examples of people who tried to take ethical shortcuts.  Consider two people named Simon...
When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles' hands, he offered them money and said, "Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit." - Acts 7:18-19

The Simon who made this request sounded ready to share spiritual gifts.  But in reality, he was practicing sorcery and magic (verses 9, 11).  An apostle formerly known as "Simon" gave him a blunt answer:
Peter answered: "May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money!  You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God.  Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord...." - Acts 7:20-22

Yes, we know -- a large number of Christian ministries seem to constantly ask for money.  But this blog never has.  And in this case, Peter turned down a donation because he could tell the other Simon didn't have the right motivation.

Gifts to God can be good things.  But the spiritual gifts God offers require something else in return:
Peter replied: "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.  And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." - Acts 2:38

"It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.... Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved." - Acts 4:10-12

Success in God's eyes doesn't come through cheating or shortcuts.  It comes through repentance -- real repentance, not a counterfeit.  And it comes through accepting God's Son as your Savior.  Is that the game plan you're taking?

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The Take-Away

Our last post attempted to show how if Jesus was a poker player, He might take chips from players as much as He gives them.  This leads to an important follow-up question: what kind of things that God want to "take" from us?

Maybe "take" is a misleading word to use, considering some of the Biblical examples:

Now a man came up to Jesus and asked: "Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?".... Jesus replied.... "If you want to enter life, obey the commandments." - Matthew 19:16-17

Some people say keeping God's Ten Commandments is easy.  Others say they're deceptively hard, especially when it comes to living a spiritually deep life.  But here's how Jesus specified them in this case:
Jesus replied: "Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother, and 'love your neighbor as yourself.'" - Matthew 19:18-19

Several of these points go against some people's self-centered human nature.  And that's the very point Jesus may have been making.  God wants to take away our sinful nature, and put on His more loving and giving nature.
"All these I have kept," the young man said.  "What do I still lack?"  Jesus answered, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.  Then come, follow me." - Matthew 19:20-21

It's not so much that God takes things away from us -- it's that we have to be willing to give them up.
Whoever tries to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it. - Luke 17:33

Our lives need to become more like His life -- devoted to God, and following the example of Jesus Christ.  Yet the man Jesus was teaching in Matthew 19 apparently wasn't ready to make that kind of commitment...
When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth. - Matthew 19:22

Which matters more to you: a big chip stack (or bank account) now, or the opportunity of living forever with God and Jesus?  If God should take away the former, the latter still will be eternally better.

So consider it carefully.  Maybe Jesus does want those poker chips -- for a very good reason, that He will reveal to the world someday.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

All Give, No Take?

The inevitable question had come up about the strange card protector we were using.  We used it to refer to Jesus Christ -- and one player was a bit puzzled when we asked if he believed in Christ.

"I do," he said.  "But I have a hard time believing Jesus would be at a poker table, trying to take all my d**n chips."

This admittedly prompted some soul-searching on our part.  After all, God is a giving God.  And....
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. - John 3:16

God gave Jesus Christ for us.  But does that mean God never takes things from us -- even from loyal believers?  There's one big Biblical case which disproves that:
...."Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I will depart.  The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised."  In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing. - Job 1:21-22

If Job had been a poker player, he would have been called deep-stacked.  He had massive holdings of livestock (verse 3) -- yet God allowed Satan to take all those blessings away from Job (verses 9-12), including the blessing of good health (2:4-6).  Technically God didn't do the taking, but He permitted it to happen.

God can take things away from us for other reasons as well....
The Israelites persisted in all the sins of Jeroboam and did not turn away from them until the Lord removed them from his presence, as he had warned through all his servants the prophets.  So the people of Israel were taken from their homeland into exile in Assyria, and they are still there. - II Kings 17:22-23
The nation of Israel was in a very nice land -- but God took it away, because the people kept sinning.  So did the coming of Jesus (the Son of God) make things any different?  The Lord said no:
"Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit".... When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard Jesus's parables, they knew he was talking about them. - Matthew 21:43, 45

The Pharisees thought they were in line for God's future blessings.  But Jesus's parables (especially the one beginning in verse 33) warned them the blessings would be taken away.

So if you think of God and Jesus as keepers of a big "payoff window" ready to toss out gifts to poker players, you're missing the full picture.  They take things from us, as well.  A future post will examine what we should be ready to give up.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Real Deal

Tim Giardina is off the hook -- a little, at least.  Prosecutors in Iowa have decided against filing state charges against him, for allegedly playing poker at a casino with counterfeit chips.

But Giardina isn't completely in the clear.  He's the man we mentioned in our last post: still a Vice-Admiral in the U.S. military, a top officer in the Strategic Command -- and his alleged "vices" could get him demoted or fired.  He could face federal charges, for using bogus chips.

We've never tried to play poker with counterfeit chips.  We've assumed the places where we play are smart enough to know the difference between the genuine chips they hand out and the fakes.

But this case raises a bigger question to us.  Are you trying to live a counterfeit life? 

"This is the only life I have," you might say.  OK, but are you living it in a counterfeit way?  Many people do....
You love evil rather than good, falsehood rather than speaking the truth.  Selah.  You love every harmful word, O you deceitful tongue! - Psalm 52:3-4

Counterfeit words at a poker table can throw other players off the track about a hand.  Counterfeit words away from the table can ruin relationships -- for instance, telling family members you aren't gambling with their savings when you really are.

Sadly, there even can be counterfeit Christians.  Some people who are turned off by God see them as hypocrites.  But here's the refreshing thing -- Jesus Christ saw through such people, too.
And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men.  I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. - Matthew 6:5

God doesn't want people who are counterfeits.  He wants real people, who really live a godly life:
...The Lord does not look at the things man looks at.  Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart. - I Samuel 16:7b

If you're trying to win at poker through counterfeiting or cheating, please stop it.  If a top military official could be caught in the act, do you really think you can keep getting away with it?  And if you're living a counterfeit life, admit your falsehood and fakery to God in prayer.  Repent of it -- then starting living by the truth, as Jesus is the truth (John 14:6).

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Poker Day 412: Better Late Than Never

We backed our car into a parking spot at Arrowhead Poker.  We got out of the car, having already checked our pockets for our poker tools (note pad, pencil, prop).  Then we realized we'd forgotten one very important thing.  It was a Sunday tournament with a $20 buy-in -- and we'd left our wallet at home.

Instead of going inside feeling embarrassed, we drove back home muttering about our own stupidity.  We could have said "Forget it" and worked on other things the rest of the day.  But we finally decided to grab our wallet and go back -- even though it meant showing 25 minutes after the starting time.

The poker room manager was reluctant for a moment -- but eventually split the one table of play into two, so we could have a seat.  Our chip stack was deducted for one round of missed blinds, so we had some catching up to do....

BLINDS: 200/400

IN THE POCKET: 4 of diamonds - 6 of diamonds

We regained our deduction right away, winning two pots in a row as soon as we sat down.  Now we're at around the starting number of 20,000, sitting in the Small Blind.  The group of five is playing somewhat tight, so no one raising before the flop allows us to simply call.


It's a pair -- albeit a drab one.  We're first to act, and check.  But we're a little comforted to see the rest of the table checking as well.


This brings four cards to a straight.  We decide to test how serious the table is, by betting 600.  (We do have a pair, after all.)  Two players call.  But something also tells us a good card is about to come....


Indeed it did!  This puts a straight on the table -- but our 6 gives us a higher straight.  So we bet 2,000, in a "truth or dare" challenge.  One man folds quickly.  The other thinks about it several seconds, then thinks better and surrenders.

We're in a somewhat giving mood, so we turn over our cards.  "I knew you had a 6," one of the folders said.  He was wise.  We're still happy, gaining about 2,000 chips.

We slowly kept building our stack, and reached the final table.  Then came some up-and-down moments, with a top of about 210,000 chips late in the tournament.  We finally held on to make the top three, which earned prize money!

But then a big all-in challenge when we held A-4 failed, as an opponent held A-Q and cleaned up.  That left us forced to go all-in with very little in the Big Blind, and our Queen-high lost to three of a kind.  Yet third place earned us $30 on a $20 investment -- not bad for someone who started the afternoon feeling stupid and ashamed.

MINISTRY MOMENT: Our final-table seat was directly to the Dealer's left.  At one point he dealt the cards a bit loosely for a moment.

"I saw that," we said as he juggled a "burn card" back into the deck.

"What was it?"

"A red Ace."

Sure enough - it was the Ace of diamonds.  He displayed it to the other players.

"Thank you, sir.  Honesty is the best policy."

We agree with that -- but let's face it.  How many other poker players would agree with that view -- even serious ones?  The national news Sunday evening included a top U.S. military official who's under investigation for allegedly taking counterfeit chips to a poker room.

Some people think the phrase, "Honesty is the best policy," comes from the Bible.  That exact quote does not.  (We could find no original source for it.) But the principle is certainly Biblical:
Do not use dishonest standards when measuring length, weight or quantity.  Use honest scales and honest weights.... - Leviticus 19:35-36

This instruction probably refers to doing trade or business.  But shouldn't it apply to everything we do in life?  Look at what could happen if your answer is no....
Shall I acquit a man with dishonest scales, with a bag of false weights?  Her rich men are violent; her people are liars and their tongues speak deceitfully.  Therefore, I have begun to destroy you, to ruin you because of your sins. - Micah 6:11-13

Verse 1 of this chapter makes clear God is saying these words.  Deceitful actions and words might make you rich in the short-term -- but God can make sure you pay for it in the long-term.  May our lives be like Shakespeare wrote in a play: "Every man has his fault, and honesty is his."

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 145 final tables in 412 games (35.2%) - 24 cashes.  Since moving to Kansas, our record has been strong: 6 for 8 in reaching final tables, with 3 cash wins.